California has always been to me the classic American family-vacation spot. So many family-friendly cities, and lots to do for all ages. Our first family trip was to Southern California in the Spring of 2016. We wanted to observe natural beauty, and hit up amusement parks, and no better place than SoCal!

Our trip consisted of 7 full days of activities and round-trip flights from LAX. We could have extended this trip a few more days to include San Diego, but we needed to get back to NYC for school.

Los Angeles

Our flight arrived late to Los Angeles, so we booked a hotel near the airport to get into bed ASAP. The Westin Los Angeles Airport was our choice. Next morning, after picking up our car, we hit the road. For our children this was a first time in LA, so we visited all of the touristy spots and took lots of pictures. They loved the Hollywood sign, Capitol Records building, and Walk of Fame. We spent the night at Le Meridien Delfina Santa Monica located near the famed Santa Monica Pier on Venice Beach. This area is super hip, close to the beach, and has lots of food spots. We had a memorable dinner at Gjelina on Abbot Kinney Blvd.

A 45 min drive north of LA to El Matador State Beach is a must-do. It consists of breathtaking rock formations. There is a walk down to the beach, but worth it considering all of the natural beauty of the area. We saw whales in the water. On our way back to LA, we stopped at Malibu Farm for dinner. This restaurant is oceanfront and at the base of Malibu Pier.

Disneyland, Anaheim

No visit to SoCal can be complete without a stop at Disneyland! There are two theme parks in total: Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park. I can image families devoting a few days to each of the parks, but we only allowed ourselves two days due to a tight schedule. For us, besides the flight tickets, admissions into these parks was the most expensive portion of our trip. We loved lunch with princesses in Ariel’s Grotto. Reservations required for the themed lunch/dinner in Disney. The stay at Sheraton Park Hotel was a solid choice for our family. It is in walking distance to park, and located among many dining options.


After two days of Disney, we needed to get back into nature. Early in the morning, we visited Little Corona Beach. I checked the tides calendar and made sure we showed up during low tide. Kids will love exploring the tide pools observing sea life such as hermit crabs and small fish. The rocks are sharp, so take care to wear proper shoes. The walk down to the water is steep, albeit a paved road, but might be a challenge for younger children or elderly.

One of the beaches we decided to visit was the Thousand Steps Beach. There are many steps down to a beach, but worth it. Quiet beach with soft sand and great view. After a few hours, we ate at the Cliff Restaurant. Spectacular view over Laguna Beach.

Legoland, Carlsbad

Further south along the coast is Legoland! Our children are huge fans of legos, so this was a must-do for them. We stayed at Legoland Hotel. It is lego-themed, with choice of bedroom theme: pirate, kingdom, friends, or Ninjago. It is located right outside the park. Rides are tame and geared to younger children. Less crowded than Disney. I do not believe more than a day is needed to enjoy the park.

La Jolla Cove, San Diego

On our last day, we wanted to see more natural beauty. We visited Torrey Pines State Natural Reserve. There are many hiking trails in this area, but we chose a short hike that kids can both do. Many great views of Pacific Ocean.

La Jolla Cove is exceptionally picturesque, and there are seals! The nearby beach is long and seemed to have many amenities. We enjoyed driving along taking in the many sights of the area. We had a late-afternoon flight so did not get to enjoy the beach.

These were some of the most memorable moments of our trip. If our trip was longer, we could have stopped at more beaches, or spent a night, or two, in San Diego. We did not visit the San Diego Zoo, SeaWorld, or Universal Studios. Our trip was a compromise of natural beauty, which boundless on this portion of the Pacific Highway, and theme parks to keep the kids happy.